Monday, June 22, 2015
Most AAAL members are familiar with the Fund for the Future of Applied Linguistics (FFAL) from previous AAALetter articles and presentations at annual conferences. The fund was initiated in 2000 as a means of increasing support for persons new in the field of applied linguistics through graduate student travel awards. The original vision was that over time such an award would enhance the profession and increase the number of productive professionals in this growing field. The strategy was to designate groups of promising new scholars each year, give them the opportunity to attend the AAAL annual conference and in doing so give them recognition from winning a competitive award.
The FFAL Board of Trustees is the body charged with overseeing the program. As with any such program, after some years of operation, questions arise about the extent to which the vision is being realized and the strategy is working. For FFAL questions include whether or not graduate students are aware of the program, how easy they find the application process, and especially what the awards have meant to them both initially and subsequently. With such questions in mind, the FFAL Board decided to conduct a survey of past recipients of these awards. A check of AAAL records determined that 85 persons had received awards. Of these, the AAAL Business Office was able to locate 70 with current addresses. A short questionnaire was sent to all 70 in late 2014, and 36 were returned completed. Along with the survey, respondents were invited to be interviewed at the 2015 AAAL annual conference in Toronto if they planned to attend and 19 agreed to do so. They represented a range of award years.
This article summarizes the responses to the survey and reports a sample of some of the comments made by those who were interviewed. A significant finding from the survey was that although all 36 respondents were students at the time they received their award, 25 now hold the rank of Assistant or Associate Professor or an equivalent position. Another four are PhD candidates and seven hold a variety of other positions such as research assistant, editor, director of testing or accreditation coordinator. In almost all cases they have maintained their memberships in AAAL and, except when funding has prevented it, many have continued to attend AAAL conferences, frequently presenting. The survey responses also indicated that the awards were “incredibly” or “extremely” valuable to respondents, in both the funding and the prestige.
The interviews which were held in March in Toronto yielded even more helpful information supporting the value of the FFAL program. All interviewed reported that the award represented a great honor to them because of the recognition by the association. Typical comments were the following:
“Receiving this prestigious award was personally and professionally invaluable because of the recognition that came with it.”
“It is one of the most prestigious graduate student awards in applied linguistics, gave recognition of my research and was extremely valuable for my future career.”
A secondary but no doubt equally important benefit cited was the role the award played in applying for academic positions. Such comments were:
“I was able to highlight this award in my application for positions and was told that it contributed to my selection for interviews.”
“Being able to list this award from a well-respected organization in my field did add value to my CV in relation to future employment as well as other award/grant applications.”
All added how much the award meant to them in terms of recognition within the association and by the professional community:
“After being announced as a winner of the award at the conference a number of scholars who I had only known from the literature came up to meet me and to discuss my work.”
“When I spoke to some of the publishers at the conference that year about possible outlets for my work they said that they knew who I was because of seeing me listed as an award winner.”
In discussing FFAL in general with these award winners from over the years, they were unanimous in saying that the application process is not burdensome and that they now regularly encourage graduate students to apply. Because there had been some discussion within the FFAL Board about the level and number of awards, these questions were raised during the interviews as well. Most years the award has carried an $800 stipend and provided free registration to the conference. There have been no more than six awards in a year. All responded that even today the $800 award is generous and that if increasing that amount meant reducing the number of awards they would see that as a negative development both for graduate students and for AAAL.
Board members took the occasion of the interviews to also seek from these winners some ideas for creating more visibility for the FFAL program and for fund raising. The awardees provided a number of suggestions which can be explored as we move into the coming year and beyond. In terms of increasing contributions to FFAL, they indicated that they are happy to now be in a position to contribute and pledged to do whatever they could to encourage greater contributions from the membership as a whole.
Overall, this exercise proved to be very valuable by validating FFAL as an important feature of AAAL. The responses obtained from previous awardees indicate that the FFAL is fulfilling its role as a means of recognizing and supporting graduate students and as the title indicates supporting the future of applied linguistics. To support our graduate student travel awards with a donation to the FFAL, please visit https://aaal.site-ym.com/donations/donate.asp?id=12463
— Paul Angelis, Southern Illinois University
— Carol A. Chapelle, Iowa State University
— Donna Christian, Center for Applied Linguistics